Trust Starts With You

Here’s a truth that I’ve learned in business and in life – it’s all about trust. Trust is the problem. Trust is the opportunity. Trust is the gap. Trust is the answer. No matter how you label your issues or challenges (e.g. communication, feedback, accountability, teamwork, etc.), it always comes back to trust. That’s the biggest challenge in solving our business and life issues – we’re trying to address what we think the issue isand we’re failing to recognize and address what the issue really is – trust.

Perhaps the biggest part of that challenge is that we don’t want to admit or talk about a potential trust issue. In part, this is because we believe that our trust levels are good or high enough, but most of our trust judgments are based merely upon the basics (e.g. I trust you not to lie to me or steal from me). However, the deeper trust questions are ignored, or we think the answers are better than they are:

  • Do I trust you to have my back?
  • Do I trust that your feedback is intended to help me?
  • Do I trust that I know what you’re thinking about everything including me?
  • Do I trust that you will do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’ll do it?

For these reasons, trust is often assumed and, therefore, not addressed, built or re-built.

Another challenge with trust is that we believe (for very good reasons) that trust is built and earned. While there is some truth in this belief, I’ve often been confused by this approach. As I’ve talked to and worked with thousands of leaders and team members, I usually hear three different mindsets regarding trust:

  1. I will trust you from the beginning until you give me a reason not to trust you (the vulnerable approach to trust, and also my personal mindset).
  2. I will neither trust you nor distrust you in the beginning, and I’ll determine trust levels as we move forward in the relationship (the neutral and seemingly non-judgmental approach to trust).
  3. I will not trust you in the beginning, and you must overcome my lack of trust in order to begin to slowly gain my trust (the protection approach to trust).

While trust can be built and exist in all three of these mindsets, each one has different risks, and that’s life – there are always risks.

My approach to trust – the vulnerable approach described in number one above – has always struck me as the riskiest (personally), but also the most effective. I was recently reading a book that not only supports this conclusion, but even suggests that it’s the only way to truly build trust and build empowered teams and culture.

In Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code (Bantam Books 2017), he offers that vulnerability actually comes beforetrust, not after. He puts it this way:

“Normally, we think about trust and vulnerability the way we think we think about standing on solid ground and leaping into the unknown; first we build trust, then we leap. But science is showing us that we’ve got it backward. Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust – it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”  (p. 107).

Wow! This is a powerful proposition and one that runs contrary to the mindset and approach that I experience with most leaders. Vulnerability is often not only perceived as a potential weakness and even a trait to be kept out of business, but it’s something that is withheld unless and until enough trust is built and felt.

Talk about taking risks as a leader – if you want to build trust in your organization and with your team, you must first be vulnerable. I love Daniel Coyle’s metaphor about the ground materializing beneath our feet.

This is the same visual that I often remember from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade(1989) starring Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. In one scene Harrison Ford is following the clues from an ancient code to find the holy grail, and he comes to what appears to be a chasm. What he realizes is that the code is instructing him to just step out into what appears to be nothing – to trust and to be vulnerable. When he does, the path appears beneath his feet just as Daniel Coyle suggests.

If you’re waiting for someone else to go first before you trust, remember that trust and leadership starts with you. Where are you holding back and waiting for others, especially when it comes to trust? As you go about your life and leadership, look for opportunities to be vulnerable and take this critical step into and towards the trust-based culture that you know will achieve and exceed beyond all your expectations.

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